Herriman, George (Joseph) 1880-1944
HERRIMAN, George (Joseph) 1880-1944
PERSONAL: Born August 22, 1880, in New Orleans, LA; died April 25, 1944, in Los Angeles, CA, of nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver; son of George Joseph (a baker) and Clara (Morel) Herriman; married Mabel Lillian Bridge, July 7, 1902 (died, mid-1930s); children: Mabel, Barbara.
CAREER: Cartoonist. Worked variously as bakery employee, fruit peddler, and house painter prior to 1897; Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, CA, office worker (some sources say worker at engraving plant), beginning 1897, cartoonist, beginning 1901; San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, cartoonist, c. 1903; worked in various jobs, including billboard painter on Coney Island, NY, early 1900s; New York World, New York, NY, cartoonist, c. 1905; Los Angeles Examiner, Los Angeles, CA, cartoonist, 1906-10; New York Journal, New York, NY, head of Comic Art Department and cartoonist beginning 1910.
COMIC STRIP COLLECTIONS
Krazy Kat, with an introduction by e. e. cummings, H. Holt (New York, NY), 1946.
Krazy Kat, edited by Joseph Greene and Rex Chessman, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1969.
The Family Upstairs: Introducing Krazy Kat: TheComplete Strip, 1910-1912, introduction by Bill Blackbeard, Hyperion (Westport, CT), 1977.
Baron Bean: A Complete Compilation, 1916-1917, introduction by M. Thomas Inge, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1977.
Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, text by Patrick McDonnell, Karen O'Connell, and Georgia Riley de Havenon, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1986.
Krazy & Ignatz 1925-1926: "There Is a Heppy LandFurfur A-waay," Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2002.
Krazy & Ignatz 1927-1928: "Love Letters in AncientBrick," Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2002.
Krazy & Ignatz 1929-1930: "A Mice, a Brick, a LovelyNight," Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2003.
SHORT FILMS; CARTOONS
At the Circus, International Film Service, 1916.
Bugologist, International Film Service, 1916.
Demi-Tasse, International Film Service, 1916.
A Duet, International Film Service, 1916.
He Made Me Love Him, International Film Service, 1916.
Ignatz Believes in Signs, International Film Service, 1916.
Krazy and Ignatz Discuss the Letter "G", International Film Service, 1916.
Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing, International Film Service, 1916.
Krazy Kat Takes Little Katrina for an Airing, International Film Service, 1916.
Missing One, International Film Service, 1916.
One-Act Tragedy, International Film Service, 1916.
The Tale of the Nude Tail, International Film Service, 1916.
A Tale That Is Knot, International Film Service, 1916.
Invalid, R-C Pictures, 1916.
Chicken Chaser, R-C Pictures, 1926.
Watery Gravy, Screen Gems, 1926.
Cheese It, Screen Gems, 1926.
Gold Struck, Screen Gems, 1926.
Shore Enough, Screen Gems, 1926.
Dots and Dashes, Screen Gems, 1926.
East Is Best, Screen Gems, 1926.
Bee Cause, R-C Pictures/Winkler Productions, 1927.
Best Wishes, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Burnt Up, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Don Go On, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Fool's Errand, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Hire a Hall, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Night Owl, R-C Pictures, 1927.
On the Trail, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Passing the Hat, R-C Pictures, 1927.
The Rug, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Skinny, R-C Pictures, 1927.
Busy Birds, Winkler Productions, 1927.
For Crime's Sake, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Grid Ironed, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Horseplay, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Kiss Crossed, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Sharp Flats, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Tired Wheels, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Topsy and Eva (also known as Black and White), Winkler Productions, 1927.
Topsy Turvy, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Web Feet, Winkler Productions, 1927.
Baby Feud, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Beaches and Scream, Winkler Productions, 1928.
A Bum Steer, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Compassionate Mirage, Winkler Productions, 1928.
A Hungry Stroke, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Ice Boxed, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Liar Bird, Winkler Productions, 1928.
The Long Count, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Love Sunk, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Nicked Nags, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Night Owls, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Patent Medicine Kid, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Rain Dropper, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Shadow Theory, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Show Vote, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Stage Coached, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Still Waters, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Tong Tied, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Wire and Fired, Winkler Productions, 1928.
Cow Belles, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Flying Yeast, Winkler Productions, 1929.
For Peace, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Hat Aches, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Sole Mates, Screen Gems, 1929.
Farm Relief, Screen Gems, 1929.
Ratskin, Screen Gems, 1929.
Port Whines, Screen Gems, 1929.
Hospitalities, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Joint Affair, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Lone Shark, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Petting Larceny, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Reduced Weights, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Vanishing Screams, Winkler Productions, 1929.
Canned Music, Screen Gems, 1929.
The Cat's Meow, Screen Gems, 1930.
Alaskan Nights, Screen Gems, 1930.
Desert Sunk, Screen Gems, 1930.
Little Trail, Screen Gems, 1930.
Apache Kid, Screen Gems, 1930.
Jazz Rhythm, Screen Gems, 1930.
An Old Flame, Screen Gems, 1930.
Spook Easy, Screen Gems, 1930.
Slow Beau, Screen Gems, 1930.
The Bandmaster, Screen Gems, 1930.
Cinderella, Screen Gems, 1930.
Lambs Will Gamble, Screen Gems, 1930.
Honolulu Wives, Screen Gems, 1930.
Bars and Stripes, Screen Gems, 1931.
Restless Sax, Screen Gems, 1931.
Soda Poppa, Screen Gems, 1931.
Stork Market, Screen Gems, 1931.
Svengarlic, Screen Gems, 1931.
Swiss Movements, Screen Gems, 1931.
Weenie Roast, Screen Gems, 1931.
Take for a Ride, Screen Gems, 1931.
Hash House Blues, Screen Gems, 1931.
Disarmament Conference, Screen Gems, 1931.
Rodeo Dough, Screen Gems, 1931.
Gas House, Screen Gems, 1931.
Love Krazy, Screen Gems, 1932.
Soldier Old Man, Screen Gems, 1932.
The Minstrel Show, Screen Gems, 1932.
What a Knight, Screen Gems, 1932.
Piano Mover, Screen Gems, 1932.
Little House Keeping, Screen Gems, 1932.
Seeing Stars, Screen Gems, 1932.
Snow Time, Screen Gems, 1932.
Hollywood Goes Krazy, Screen Gems, 1932.
Ritzy Hotel, Screen Gems, 1932.
The Crystal Gazebo, Screen Gems, 1932.
Birth of Jazz, Screen Gems, 1932.
Paper Hanger, Screen Gems, 1932.
Prosperity Blues, Screen Gems, 1932.
Hic-Cups the Champ, Screen Gems, 1932.
The Curio Shop, Screen Gems, 1933.
Russian Dressing, Screen Gems, 1933.
The Bill Poster, Screen Gems, 1933.
Stage Krazy, Screen Gems, 1933.
Antique Antics, Screen Gems, 1933.
Broadway Malady, Screen Gems, 1933.
Bunnies and Bonnets, Screen Gems, 1933.
House Cleaning, Screen Gems, 1933.
Wooden Shoes, Screen Gems, 1933.
Krazy Spooks, Screen Gems, 1933.
Whacks Museum, Screen Gems, 1933.
Out of the Ether, Screen Gems, 1933.
Wedding Bells, Screen Gems, 1933.
The Medicine Show, Screen Gems, 1933.
Masquerade Party, Screen Gems, 1934.
Busy Bus, Screen Gems, 1934.
Catnips of 1940, Screen Gems, 1934.
Tom Thumb, Screen Gems, 1934.
Trapeze Artist, Screen Gems, 1934.
The Autograph Hunter, Screen Gems, 1934.
Bowery Daze, Screen Gems, 1934.
Goofy Gondolas, Screen Gems, 1934.
Southern Exposure, Screen Gems, 1934.
Cinder Alley, Screen Gems, 1934.
Krazy's Waterloo, Screen Gems, 1934.
Hotcha Melody, Screen Gems, 1935.
Bird Man, Screen Gems, 1935.
Kannibal Kapers, Screen Gems, 1935.
King's Jester, Screen Gems, 1935.
The Peace Conference, Screen Gems, 1935.
Garden Gaities, Screen Gems, 1935.
A Happy Family, Screen Gems, 1935.
The Bird Stuffer, Screen Gems, 1936.
Highway Snobbery, Screen Gems, 1936.
Lil' Ainjil, Screen Gems, 1936.
The Merry Cafe, Screen Gems, 1936.
Krazy's Newsreel, Screen Gems, 1936.
Krazy's Race of Time, Screen Gems, 1937.
Lyin' Hunter, Screen Gems, 1937.
Railroad Rhythm, Screen Gems, 1937.
The Masque Rade, Screen Gems, 1937.
The Auto Clinic, Screen Gems, 1938.
Gym Jams, Screen Gems, 1938.
Hot Dogs on Ice, Screen Gems, 1938.
Little Buckaroo, Screen Gems, 1938.
Krazy's Magic, Screen Gems, 1938.
The Lone Mountie, Screen Gems, 1938.
Sad Little Guinea Pigs, Screen Gems, 1938.
Krazy's Travel Squawks, Screen Gems, 1938.
Golf Chumps, Screen Gems, 1939.
Krazy's Shoe Shop, Screen Gems, 1939.
Krazy's Bear Tale, Screen Gems, 1939.
Little Lost Sheep, Screen Gems, 1939.
Mouse Exterminator, Screen Gems, 1940.
Also cartoonist for the film shorts Sleepy Holler, 1929, and Auto Suggestion, 1929.
Author of "Lariat Pete," published in San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 1903; "Major Ozone, the Fresh Air Fiend," published in San Francisco Call(San Francisco, CA), 1906; "The Dingbat Family," first published in New York Journal (New York, NY), beginning 1910; and "Krazy Kat" (appeared as "Krazy Kat and Ignatz," 1911-13), first published in New York Journal (New York, NY), 1911-44.
Also creator of the comic strips Bud Smith, c. 1905, Baron Mooch, c. 1905-10, Mary's Home from College, c. 1905-10, Gooseberry Sprig, c. 1905-10, Baron Bean, 1916-19, Now Listen, Mabel, 1919, and Stumble Inn, 1922-26. Contributor of cartoons to Life, Judge, New York News, and New York American.
(Illustrator) Don Marquis, The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, specially abridged by Winfield Carlough, Noble and Noble (New York, NY), 1972.
ADAPTATIONS: A jazz pantomime based on Krazy Kat, composed by John Alden Carpenter, and with scenario, costumes, and backdrops by Herriman, was produced by the Chicago Opera Company, then in a Town Hall Concert in New York, NY, 1922, and published as Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime, G. Schirmer (New York, NY), 1922. The novel Love's a Kat and Mouse Game, by Jay Cantor, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988, is based on Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strip.
SIDELIGHTS: The cult favorite comic strip Krazy Kat originated in the hands of George Herriman, an artist who worked for the Hearst newspaper publishing chain in the first decades of the twentieth century. Herriman was an unconventional figure, as were many of his "funny-page" colleagues, and much liked by his peers.
Krazy Kat, which ran for thirty-three years beginning in 1911, had numerous fans in its day, including President Woodrow Wilson, who reportedly read it aloud at cabinet meetings. Describing Krazy Kat, a New York Review of Books contributor in 1985 observed, "The drawing was remarkable, with certain surrealistic inventions, especially in the improbable lunar landscapes, deliberately intended to divorce the events from any verisimilitude." The critic went on to describe the conceit of Krazy Kat as an "absurd situation without particularly comic ingredients" out of which the cartoonist nonetheless "drew an infinite series of variations" that with the accumulated wealth of years of strips constituted an entire world.
The critic who penned this affectionate appraisal was Umberto Eco, the Italian author and scholar known for such intellectually challenging works as Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose. Certainly Eco has been far from the only esteemed fan of Krazy Kat and its creator, Herriman. Though at first the affinity between Eco and Krazy Kat might seem incongruous or at best whimsical—rather like T. S. Eliot's affection for house cats—on closer scrutiny, it is entirely appropriate. In The Name of the Rose, after all, blends entertainment with the most challenging of pursuits concerning historical and linguistic mysteries; likewise the questionably gendered Krazy Kat, for all its shenanigans, is remembered as something of a philosopher, one famous for utterances such as "In my Kosmis, there will be no feeva of discord....Allmy immotions will function in hominy." In the years since Herriman's death, the strip has come to be considered one of the classics of twentieth-century popular culture in America. "This epic lyric is one of the wonders of modern literature, and though it was never very popular, it is now justly considered a classic of the art form," declared Mosaic writer Eyal Amiran.
Herriman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1880. As an adult, Herriman would spin various tales regarding his parentage, claiming at different times that he came from a French or a Greek background; he referred to his father on occasion as "a Parisian tailor and amateur astronomer." But in actuality, his forebears had lived in Louisiana for at least three generations and were apparently part of its Creole/African-American community. Records are scarce, but it is known that Herriman had at least two sisters and a brother. They and their parents apparently had such light-complected skin that they were able to "pass" as Caucasians when the family relocated to Los Angeles, California, when Herriman was still quite young. He would later refer to Los Angeles, not New Orleans, as his true hometown.
Given the era in which he grew up and established himself, it is not surprising that Herriman would fabricate stories to explain where he got his swarthy appearance. In the South, indeed in most parts of the United States, a person who had even one black ancestor was labeled "Negro" and subjected to all the opprobrium that went with this classification. Apparently his acquaintances never questioned his claims about his racial background. People in the newspaper business called Herriman "Handsome George" or "the Greek," the latter term intended to suggest a Greek god. By all accounts, Herriman was a handsome man, but because he did not like the appearance of his hair—which Herriman disdainfully referred to as "kinky"—he kept his hat on much of the time.
Young Herriman showed an early aptitude for drawing, a talent which his father discouraged. The elder Herriman once told his son, "Bread the world must have, but art allays neither hunger nor thirst. Nobody ever sees art wagons on the highways, but just look at the bread buses and bun wagons." This disapproval probably only encouraged the young man's interest in art, but on his way to making a living with his sketches, he engaged in a number of pursuits simply to keep himself fed after he abandoned high school. Some stories of Herriman's introduction to the world of work are apocryphal, but it is likely that he did go through a series of jobs—even if his experience might not have been quite as comical as admirers later recounted. He apparently worked in a bakery, possibly his father's, and was fired either for eating too many cream puffs or for practical jokes such as salting donuts and baking a dead mouse in a loaf of bread. He then went to work as a fruit peddler, then briefly found employment as a house painter, but got himself fired for his habit of stumbling around on the scaffolding.
Moving closer to his true vocation, Herriman got a job painting shop windows, and around this time—in 1897, when he was seventeen years old—the Los Angeles Herald published one of his sketches and hired him. Though it might sound as though his career was set, the paper did not hire him as a cartoonist: according to the oral history surrounding Herriman, he went to work either as an office boy or as an employee in the engraving plant. Whatever the job, the pay was two dollars a week.
By 1901, the Herald had begun publishing full-color Sunday cartoons by Herriman. These were standalones, not part of any series, because he had yet to devise a comic strip as such. In the following year, which also saw his marriage to Mabel Lillian Bridge, he had gained enough popularity to appear in an overview of American comic-strip artists published by Bookman magazine.
In the Bookman article devoted to Herriman, as quoted by Adam Gopnik in New York Review of Books, the young illustrator decried cartoonists' lack of appreciation for "the inspiration to be obtained from blue, azure, and turquoise skies....Takethe clouds and skies of which I speak, blend them with the green grass and gamboling lambs, and a few trees, a few red-roofed barns, little hamlets in the distance, a lake, a creek, a rustic bridge, a nestling home amid clinging vines, and lots of other things so dear to an artist's heart, place them in full view of the inspired one, and see the light of imagination fire him. They never will. His mind and soul have lost that delicate sense of the poetic and artistic, which one would naturally think were indigenous and he will turn away with a sigh, sit down at his desk, and continue to worry out idiocies for the edification of an inartistic majority."
In time, Herriman would work out the details of a landscape that would prove almost as significant an element of his work as the characters of Krazy Kat and Ignatz—a landscape that would later inspire the desert background against which Wile E. Coyote and the eponymous hero of the Road Runner cartoons played out their intrigues. But the creation of Coconino County, or at least of the Coconino County to be found in Krazy Kat, was still almost a decade in the future.
In 1903, with the regular publication of Lariat Pete in the San Francisco Chronicle, Herriman developed his first comic strip. Soon to follow was Bud Smith. In the early to middle part of the twentieth century's first decade, Herriman traveled to New York City in search of greater opportunities. Legend has it that he worked for a time at Coney Island, painting signs for various carnival attractions and even acting as barker for a snake act—an unlikely job for Herriman, who at least in his latter years was shy, soft-spoken, and even reclusive. He also sold cartoons to Life and Judge magazines, and finally got a job drawing political and sports cartoons for the New York World.
Eventually Herriman and family moved back in California. In 1906, his strip Major Ozone, the Fresh Air Fiend appeared briefly in the San Francisco Call. Around the same time, famed newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst gave the bright young cartoonist a job at his Los Angeles Examiner. During this time, Herriman produced a number of strips, including Baron Mooch, Mary's Home from College, Gooseberry Sprig, Musical Mose, Professor Otto and His Auto, and AcrobaticArchie. It appears that he was searching for his voice, and these strips came and went without attracting much attention.
In 1910, Herriman moved his family back to New York, where Hearst had given him an assignment as head of the Comic Art Department at the New York Journal. There he became friends with a group of other cartoonists that included Harry Herschfield, Winsor McCay, Gus Mager, Tom McNamara, and sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan. According to Dorgan, Herriman pronounced his first name "Garge"; in any case, this was what Dorgan affectionately called him. Because the profession of newspaper cartooning was not held in high regard by pre-World War I America, Herriman and his friends gravitated toward others who enjoyed similarly low status: actors and athletes. The group often drank at a bar called Jack's at Sixth Avenue and Forty-third Street.
At that time, most cartoonists of note worked either on newspapers owned by Hearst or ones belonging to Joseph Pulitzer. Other figures of note with whom Herriman became acquainted during those years included James Swinnerton; Rudolph Dirks, creator of The Katzenjammer Kids; and Cliff Sterret, who drew Polly and Her Pals. Gopnik explained this generation's significance to the development of the comic strip as an art form: "In the previous twenty years, these artists had moved the tradition of caricature decisively away from political satire, and thus away from the practice of physiognomic distortion and expression that had defined the form from its first invention in the circle of the Carracci in Bologna, three hundred years before. In its place they had created a new kind of comic drawing that depended far more on design and the creation of durable characters than it did on the epigrammatic reduction of faces."
With The Dingbat Family in 1910, Herriman seemed to have finally hit on a comic-strip idea that worked. The funny thing was that the characters who attracted the most attention were not the Dingbats themselves, but two seemingly peripheral figures: the Dingbats' cat and his antagonist, a mouse. These two became such a favorite with readers that in 1911 Herriman gave them their own miniature strip, Krazy Kat and Ignatz, which appeared below The Dingbats. By 1913, they had their own fully independent strip, Krazy Kat, which appeared in full-page color form for the first time on Sunday, April 23, 1916. In time, Hearst ordered the strip to be featured outside the comic section, a tribute to his own personal appreciation for it.
Krazy Kat had but one recurring theme: the unrequited love that Krazy Kat harbors toward Ignatz Mouse. In a Dictionary of American Biography essay, writer Marie Caskey observed that "numerous other characters passed through the strip and engaged in tender or bizarre by-play, and there were excursions into allegory and myth, but the heart of the strip was its love story." Stefan Kanfer, writing for Time, also summed up the strip's straightforward appeal: "The plot was as vigorous and minimal as the drawings: Krazy Kat is smitten with Ignatz Mouse (neither animal is identified by gender), and to discourage the lover, Ignatz hurls bricks. Offissa B. Pupp, a dog disguised as a Keystone Kop, attempts to guard Krazy [with whom he is in love], but since he stands in the trajectories of both animals, they frequently conspire to outwit him." Amiran, writing in Mosaic, pointed out that "Ignatz throws the brick in anger, but Krazy, who is a gentle and sentimental animal, interprets the toss as an act of love. Pupp represents a simple-minded literalist vision of law and order; after he hauls Ignatz to jail he likes to believe that 'all's well.'"
Over time, the adventures of Krazy Kat and Ignatz would move from the confined environment of the Dingbats' apartment to the wide-open spaces of Coconino County, where they were then joined by Offissa Pupp. It was Gopnik's contention that Herriman truly developed his style not simply when Krazy Kat appeared, but when he placed his creation in the center of his desert "Eden." There really was a Coconino County, of course, in Arizona, and Herriman fell in love with the place when he visited it. He would go back to it again and again, and over time came to identify with the Navajo people who lived there. Sometimes, instead of saying that his heritage was Greek or French, he would claim Navajo ancestry, and he said that he hoped he might be reincarnated as a Navajo after he died.
In the Monument Valley of Arizona, Herriman discovered the ideal setting for the adventures of Krazy Kat and the others. Gopnik stated, "The Monument Valley was a landscape which, in its natural geometry, its austere expanses poetically punctuated by irregular and whimsical outcroppings and towers, seemed perfectly made for the artist's newly evolved style, God's answer to the Dingbats' apartment."
Herriman's inventive dialogue was much of the attraction for his fans. "The language of the strips—at once grandiloquent and homely—was as unique as the art, with extravagant word plays which delighted initiates and baffled others," noted Caskey in the Dictionary of American Biography. "'Fey,' 'insane,' and 'metaphysical' were some of the terms used by enthusiasts to describe 'Krazy Kat.'" Albert Goldbarth of the Kenyon Review wrote that "most fans find the strip's blend of fancy and philosophy 'poetic' in spirit," and admitted that he "can't help but think of Krazy Kat as a sonnet sequence . . . that lasted for over three decades." Patrick McDonnell, writing in the New York Times, called the language of Krazy Kat an "illiterate-literate Joycean patois." McDonnell explained that "Herriman's characters would shift from Victorian prose to slang, from English to Spanish to French, from the alliteration of Navajo names to the onomatopoeia of comic-strip language, often in the same sentence. These juxtapositions produced uniquely mellifluous dialogue—and a laugh. But if Herriman's words soared, they were still tethered to earth. As Ignatz said, 'Plain language, but in a higher plane.'"
Later critics discovered in the strip some hints of the tension its creator may have felt living in an ethnically diverse society in an era before civil rights laws. Amiran, writing in Mosaic, discussed the racial nuances in Krazy Kat's plot and subplots. "Ignatz's symptomatic brick-throwing makes explicit the love-hate relationship between whites and blacks, where cultural animosity mates with sexual desire," the scholar asserted. Herriman's possible inner conflict over his heritage manifested itself in the character of "Joe Stork." Amiran theorized that for Herriman, "Babies represent a familial threat throughout the strip, the threat to reveal a racial past: Joe Stork delivers babies to Coconino from their mystical source, the Enchanted Mesa, and it is a running gag that everyone hides when Joe is about with a bundle. A prominent place to hide is in storm shelters, as though babies were an act of nature."
Krazy Kat, with its androgynous love triangle set against the moonscape of Coconino County, was likely too sophisticated to attract the broad-based following of more mainstream strips. Whereas Chic Young's Blondie appeared in over 1,000 papers around the country, Krazy Kat could be seen in only forty-eight. "The strip was too idiosyncratic to be truly popular," noted Kanfer in Time. Yet what it lacked in exposure, it more than made up for in the loyalty—and notoriety—of its fans. Among them were two of the most powerful men of the era: President Wilson and Herriman's boss, Hearst. Some readers of Krazy Kat were less prominent then, but would emerge in time: for instance, the strip had an enormous impact on the aspiring young cartoonist Walt Disney, who would later say that Herriman's "amazing gallery of characters not only brought a new type of humor to the American public, but made him a source of inspiration to thousands of those artists," as quoted by Kanfer. By then, Disney had become far more famous than Herriman ever would, in large part thanks to his creation of Mickey Mouse, the antecedents of which could be found in Krazy Kat and Ignatz.
Other notable admirers included painter Willem de Kooning, poet e. e. cummings, beat generation writer Jack Kerouac, film director Frank Capra, and art critic Gilbert Seldes, who included a well-known essay on Herriman in The Seven Lively Arts. Composer John Alden Carpenter presented a jazz pantomime, based on the strip and including a scenario by Herriman, in 1922. Prolific Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones was inspired by its recurring, endless plot and desert landscapes to create a similar situation in the classic Road Runner animated shorts.
Herriman also participated in a celebrated collaboration of humorists, providing illustrations for Don Marquis's The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel. In fact the two men never met, but the work nonetheless made for an interesting combination of talents since Marquis was also known for his own feline creation, Mehitabel.
Buoyed by the success of Krazy Kat, Herriman experimented with other comic strips, but none enjoyed anything like the acclaim of his greatest creation. One of them, Stumble Inn, featured some characters from the "Krazy Kat" strip: "Uncle Tom is a resourceful older cat who hates mice, plays blues, and shares with Krazy a childish idiolect," noted Amiran in Mosaic of the early 1920s creation. Herriman even named one strip after his wife, Now Listen, Mabel, and he was crushed when she died in an auto accident in the mid-1930s. He then went to live with his daughter Mabel, and in 1938 spent several weeks in the hospital. Diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, he died in 1944, a few months before his sixty-fourth birthday. He continued to pen Krazy Kat strips until his death.
More than four decades later, Eco cited as proof of Herriman's genius the fact that no one attempted to carry on his Krazy Kat strip after his death. The soul of the comic was the unique talent of its creator, something that could not be replicated by a hired team of cartoonists, insisted Eco. This opinion that Krazy Kat fell more within the scope of art than that of simple entertainment has been expressed by many. Seldes, the art critic, praised the comic in 1924 as "the most amusing and fantastic and satisfying work of art produced in America today." Certainly within the comic genre, Herriman stands as one of the giants. Goldbarth quoted Bill Blackbeard in the World Encyclopedia of Comics as stating that Krazy Kat is "universally acclaimed as the greatest comic strip of all time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Decades: 1910-1919, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945, American Council of Learned Societies (New York, NY), 1973.
Goulart, Ron, editor, The Encyclopedia of American Comics, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1990.
Herriman, George, Krazy Kat: The Comic Art ofGeorge Herriman, text by Patrick McDonnell, Karen O'Connell, and Georgia Riley de Havenon, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1986.
Seldes, Gilbert, The Seven Lively Arts, Harper (New York, NY), 1924.
Booklist, February 1, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of Krazy & Ignatz 1927-1928: "Love Letters in Ancient Brick," p. 966.
Christian Science Monitor, June 30, 1986, p. 26.
Entertainment Weekly, August 2, 1991, p. 52.
Kenyon Review, spring, 1990, Albert Goldbarth, p. 11.
Los Angeles, January, 2003, Robert Ito, review of Krazy & Ignatz 1927-1928, p. 94.
Mosaic (Winnipeg, Canada), September, 2000, Eyal Amiran, "George Herriman's Black Sentence," p. 56.
Newsweek, February 29, 1988, p. 68.
New York Review of Books, Umberto Eco, "On 'Krazy Kat' and 'Peanuts,'" June 13, 1985; December 18, 1986, Adam Gopnik, review of Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, p. 19; March 26, 1987.
New York Times, April 13, 1986, Patrick McDonnell, "'Krazy Kat:' Highbrow Burlesque," section 6, p. 44.
New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1986, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, April 22, 2002, review of Krazy &Ignatz 1925-1926: "There Is a Heppy Land Furfur A-waay," p. 52.
Time, June 30, 1986, Stefan Kanfer, "Krazy Kat Abrams," p. 80.
Village Voice, February 2, 1988, p. 64.*